Julia’s sister, Kara, has a recurrence of leukemia, and, because of the horrors of chemotherapy along with a dismal prognosis, decides to forgo treatment. Kara asks Julia, along with two of her closest friends, to participate in a "sweat," an Indian purification ceremony intended to "recenter" one’s spirit prior to death. The idea of her sister dying has caught Julia off guard, despite Kara’s dismal prognosis, her baldness, her gray color in the mirror.

Kara lives life to the fullest, without fear; in sharing her life, Julia had forgotten about the reality of death. Julia is surprised when in only five days the ceremony takes place, and thinks of all the practical reasons this ceremony makes no sense. Against her will, Julia takes her sister to the sweat tent and participates in the ceremony. Even though it might have hastened her sister’s death, Julia comes to realize the importance of the ritual, for as her sister dies, she, herself, feels closer to her than ever before, and is finally able to see how Kara’s life had fit into a larger design.


This is a well written and moving story about an unusual and self empowering kind of death. It does not address "right to die" issues so much as how one can retain one’s identity, vitality, and connectedness throughout the process of dying. It also challenges those around the dying person to retain their connection with their loved one, and to not use medical care as a substitute for intimacy.

Primary Source

I Am Becoming the Woman I've Wanted


Papier Mache

Place Published

Watsonville, Calif.




Sandra Haldeman Martz

Page Count